Hop to it! Making beer cocktails.
One of my favourite drinks of all time is the Michelada. I like to make it with a sweet amber beer, plenty of fresh lime, a splash of spicy clam cocktail and a sprinkle of salt. Poured into an ice-packed tall glass, it’s tart, savoury and sweet all at once, making for a perfect afternoon refresher.
Given my love for the Michelada, you’d think I’d have branched out into other beer cocktails. You’d think. But almost all other efforts have failed. Nor had I ever sat down at a beer bar to be pleasantly surprised by a truly great beer cocktail. It got so that I wrote off the entire category.
And then I met Kevin Delaney, head bartender at Hamilton’s Brux House, who made me several delicious cocktails with beer that convinced me this hybrid genre had legs after all. He isn’t quite ready to write the book on it yet, but he’s making pretty great strides towards establishing it as a serious category, even if he is modest about his accomplishments.
“I’m only really just starting to get beer cocktails,” says Delaney. “I was trying to find a happy place for cocktails at Brux, which is, first and foremost, a craft beer bar. Beer cocktails seemed like a natural fit.”
Delaney, well aware of the spate of bad beer cocktails that have dampened people’s enthusiasm for these drinks, took his time trying to figure out how to approach the category, working his way up to ambitious concoctions with “baby steps.”
“One of our owners is Mark Horsley, lead brewer at Nickel Brook, and through him we get access to all these fantastic beers,” recalls Delaney about his first attempt to combine beer and liquor. “We had their Kentucky Bastard on tap last winter, which is a dark and rich, vanilla-heavy, bourbon barrel-aged Imperial Stout.”
Delaney used it in an Old Fashioned, subbing in the stout for both the bitters and water he would usually use as the kindling for the classic cocktail. From there, he muddled the sugar and beer together, added bourbon and orange zest, and christened it the “Old Bastard.”
“The nice thing about beer is that there’s a few different ways you can use it,” explains Delaney. “With a stout, you’re adding a malty sweetness to the drink, but you can use a lighter beer, like a fruity sour, lager or pilsner, in a tall drink, like a Tom Collins instead of soda.”
Sounds like a fun and relatively easy experiment but, for those of us not ready to invent anything new yet, Delaney kindly gets us started off with a tried and true recipe for one of his own signature drinks at Brux: the Tall, Dark and Handsome.
Tall, Dark and Handsome
2 oz Averna amaro
1 oz lemon
1 oz orange
1 oz simple syrup
4 oz dark lager or pilsner
1 dash bitters
Shake all ingredients except bitters and beer together over ice for 60 seconds. Strain into tall glass, filled with ice. Top it with a dark lager or a pilsner and add a dash of bitters.